RaveThe ScotsmanThis is a provocative, incisive and worried book, carried off with no small degree of élan. It is multi-disciplinary, taking in ecology, philosophy, law, futurology, psychology, palaeontology and anthropology ... All stem from one contention: that humans have, in some rather unexplained fashion and by unfathomable processes, decided that we are disconnected or apart from the natural world ... Yes, there have been thinkers who wanted a strict demarcation between the human and the living but not-human, and Challenger goes into their reasoning and its evasions in detail. But this has always been a vexed field of enquiry ... One of the very best parts of this book is the manner in which Challenger conflates intellectual activities that can seem opposed ... A lot of the book’s prime concern is in unpicking where the idea of hierarchy originated ... There are plenty of books I could recommend on each one of Challenger’s topics, but this book skilfully braids all of them.
RaveThe ScotsmanGeorge Saunders’ surprisingly affirmative new book is a bit like being taken around a literary museum by a curator. His Old Masters are Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol, and the book presents seven works by them, and then Saunders’ insights about them having taught a course on the Russian short story at Syracuse University for many years. That said, even these Old Masters knew a thing or twelve about suffering ... one doesn’t need a pandemic and a lockdown to find an excuse to return to these Russian masters, and it was certainly not without profit, interest and joy to re-read them. So the justification for the jacket price must be what Saunders brings to this. As one would expect, it is a very eccentric form of seminar.